(Sevens, a recurring feature on Aquarium Drunkard, pays tribute to the art of the individual song.)
“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Abraham Lincoln famously said, and a house as metaphor for a relationship – be it one between warring parts of a nation or warring factions of a family or love affair – is an old one. It seems appropriate that Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens would use such a timeless metaphor. The Smithereens have made a career out of harnessing classic sounds and making them fresh and new again. “House We Used to Live In,” from their sophomore album Green Thoughts, is no exception.
Opening with a chiming guitar, a sound that dominates so much of the Smithereens’ work, we’re quickly onto the song’s chorus and theme: “House that we used to live in / falling apart.” DiNizio’s vocals are twinged with melancholy. The sadness of the destruction of the house roam through the verses and bridge. There’s a wistful, woeful tone to the line “a house is not a home” that is sung in the bridge, echoing the dual meanings of the words that are treated so interchangeably at times in our language. Only three years earlier, Paul Westerberg had harnessed the same idea when he sang that he “used to live at home” but now just “stays at the house.” Obviously, nuance is at play. The phrase “house we used to live in” is repeatedly chanted through the closing moments of the song, the emphasis falling on the word ‘used,’ its past tense conjugation illustrating that there really is nothing to be done. There is only time to take “one look before they tear it down.”
The video adapts the song’s more literal meaning, as the band plays and strolls through rooms where ghost images of an idyllic 1950s family are busy living their lives, but the alternate meaning is still obvious. The empty rooms echo the lyrics’ insistence that house and home are not the same. And neither are our lives afterward. words/ j neas
MP3: The Smithereens :: House We Used to Live In